Governor says keeping Iowa packing plants running essential to food chain

Google Maps Tyson Columbus Junction plant

Governor Kim Reynolds says the state’s meatpacking plants are complying with the latest safety recommendations and she has no plans to intervene with an executive order that would temporarily close of them.

“This isn’t like a regular facility where you shut it down for two weeks,” Reynolds said during her daily news conference. “…We have farmers that are raising hogs…If we aren’t able to move them through the process, at some point we’re going to have to be talking about euthanizing hogs and we’re not far from it and it would be devastating.”

The governor said consumers would see pork prices rise, since Iowa produces a third of the nation’s pork supply. The Webster County Board of Supervisors announced this morning 16 employees at Prestage Foods, the pork plant in Eagle Grove, have tested positive for COVID-19 and the state has sent 950 test kits to the plant. The governor announced all the employees of the pork plant in Columbus Junction and at the beef plant in Tama have been tested for COVID-19.

“We’re going to continue to work with the plants and be proactive,” Reynolds said. “I was on the phone last week with management in every single one of the facilities in the state to check in and to see what they’re doing, to see if we can help in any way and just to help meet the need for their workforce, to keep them up and going.”

The beef plant in Tama reopened this morning, but the pork plant in Columbus Junction remains closed. Governor Reynolds said it isn’t a surprise there are outbreaks of the virus at meatpacking facilities because they’re “mass gatherings” of employees.

“These processing plants are essential and these workers are essential workforce and so we have to be doing everything that we can collectively,” Reynolds said this morning, pounding the lectern as she spoke. “We should all be working on finding solutions to making sure that we are doing infectious control policies, that we’re making sure that the workforce is protected, but most importantly that we’re keeping that food supply chain moving.”

Iowa Department of Public Health deputy director Sarah Reisetter said they are finding positive COVID-19 cases among meatpacking employees who have not been ill or have symptoms like a fever.

“If you can’t maintain six-foot social distancing between other people, then you should be considering the use of PPE,” Reisetter said, “which I understand these particular businesses that we’re working are working to accommodate for their employees.”

Reynolds said the meatpacking plants have been taking the temperatures of employees as they arrive for their shifts, but state officials are now asking that workers be screened for a fever at the END of their workday, too.

Reynolds announced this morning COVID-19 outbreaks have been confirmed at two more Iowa nursing homes and 58 coronavirus patients in Iowa hospitals are in critical condition on ventilators. Since March, 79 Iowans have died of COVID-19 and a total of 3159 Iowans have tested positive for the virus.

— Radio Iowa

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